By Louise Brown-Smith
Back in February, as a part of Black History Month, our community participated in a book read, sponsored by the Anti-Racism Coalition of Cazenovia, ARC-C. Stamped from the Beginning, by Ibram X Kendi and Stamped from the Beginning, Racism, Anti Racism and You, by Ibram X Kendi and Jason Reynolds were the books chosen. The Cazenovia Public Library provided copies. The Cazenovia Republican provided wonderful coverage of this event. Both our adult reading group and, just recently, the student group have finished reading and discussing. This report is to fulfill the responsibility to report back to our community the impact of all that reading and conversing.
Alan Smith, Wendy Everard, and Louise Brown-Smith led a thoughtful and lively group of adults in a high school class room, both in-person and on zoom. About a dozen adults took part throughout the month of February. The participants in this group read either the “big” book, Stamped from the Beginning,” or the young adult version, Stamped, Racism, Anti-Racism and You. Some of the adults read both.
Kurt Wheeler led a group of high school students in reading and discussing Stamped, Racism Anti- Racism and You. They read and met weekly through May to discuss the readings.
Both groups found the books to be important in understanding racism, its history, and how it impacts our country. As one reader said, “The books clearly emphasized how racism is all about power and that the first step to dismantling racism is learning the long, repetitive—and still being written—history.” In assessing the differences in the take aways of the two groups, it seems that both groups were grateful for learning the long and on-going history of racism.
The student group focused on learning the ideas and progression of racism and how to engage critically in present day progress in anti racism. As one student wrote,
“Kendi and Reynolds collaborated to share a multitude of ideas with a simplicity that makes them accessible to everyone and an importance that will impact everyone. They clearly emphasized how racism is all about power and that the first step to dismantling racism is learning the long, repetitive—and still being written—history. The book uncovered many key events to be the work of assimilationists. It brought awareness to how you can say a few truthful things yet still be telling a false story by leaving out essential pieces of information and drawing purposive conclusions. The book is meant to be actively engaged with. We talked about the necessities and harms of gradual progress; we discussed questions of how exactly progress should be measured, especially when self-serving intentions and intersectional issues like classism, education, or colorism come into play.”
The group of adults took away a great appreciation of their past ideas of racism and how to look at them in a new light.
The adults often discussed how they themselves changed in their ability and desire to engage in anti-racism activities. One adult became more comfortable engaging in conversation with Black people. Another, a teacher, felt ready to engage with her students when racist incident occurred in her class. She has begun to pursue the formation of an anti-racism group in her high school. Another expressed the need to learn more about present day bias and has attended community forums on racism. One group member wrote, “I loved the discussions I was a part of and as a result I attended (and bought the book) featured in The Cazenovia Forum lecture, “Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner’s Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause,” presented by author Ty Seidule.”
Everyone who read, opened their minds, learned, debated, led, and discussed in the two reading groups expects to continue to learn more and to do more. They sometimes felt overwhelmed by the quantity of history and present day evidence that chronicled “…the systematic dehumanization of Blacks and other races over the course of six centuries for profit, power and supremacy. Black people today still are living with this “stone in their shoe.” All together probably about 20 Cazenovia community members participated in these 2 reading groups. That’s about 1% of our community - not an insignificant number. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”